What Neil Gorsuch Could Mean for the Supreme Court


by Armen Grigorian


On January 31, 2017, President Donald J. Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a judge of the United State Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to be the next member of United States Supreme Court. He was nominated to this position by President George W. Bush and has been serving in this role since 2006. Jude Gorsuch’s’ nomination is to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia last year. Since Justice Scalia’s passing there have been eight members sitting on the Supreme Court, four of which tend to have a more conservative approach to interpreting the Constitution, and four of which have a more liberal approach to interpreting it. This breakdown of the Supreme Court hold particular significance due to the fact that a 4-4 tie when the justices vote on a case means that the holding of the lower court gets upheld and no precedent is set. This rule has impacted multiple cases since the death of Justice Scalia, and has held up multiple rulings. Judge Gorsuch’s potential impact on the Supreme Court is quite substantial as his vote may be the deciding one on multiple cases.


To begin, Judge Gorsuch sitting on the Supreme Court would bring back a 5-4 conservative majority. According to an article published by fivethirtyeight, Gorsuch would, ideologically, be about as conservative as Justice Scalia was while on the bench. According to fivethrityeight, Gorsuch’s voting record backs up this assessment. This could impact many of the cases that have been on hold. Gorsuch could provide the fifth needed to oppose labor unions in California, as well as to block the Clean Power Plan put forth by the Obama administration.


However, on various social issues such as abortion, affirmative action, and LGBTQ rights, Gorsuch may have a more minimal impact. This is because on these issues the normally conservative justice, Anthony Kennedy, has taken a more liberal stance, meaning even with Gorsuch there is already a five-vote majority. According to USA today, “Gorsuch has not ruled directly on abortion. In a book on assisted suicide he said “the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.” That has encouraged abortion opponents, who note that Trump promised evangelical Christians he would appoint judges who oppose the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.”


Perhaps Gorsuch’s most well know rulings came against the Obama administration and its requirements that health insurance plans offer contraceptives. He ruled for Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor in efforts to block this requirement on the ground of religious freedom. The Supreme Court also ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby, but since the passing of Justice Scalia several cases had been trying to get brought back to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch would likely put an end to those attempts.


Finally, where Gorsuch may have the most significant impact, is in how he acts upon his beliefs about the structure and role of the court system. According to the New York Times, Gorsuch argues that, “judges should take back at least some of the authority they have ceded to federal agencies that enforce labor, environmental and anti-discrimination laws.” Gorsuch also wrote last year that, “laws that permit executive bureaucracies to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution.” It is of note that these are not commonly held beliefs on the Supreme Court as the record shows that only Justice Clarence Thomas agrees with him, but the potential impact of this belief is yet to be seen. Overall it appears that judge Gorsuch is a conservative who believes in the power of the courts to make law and in the authority of the Constitution. How exactly these views will play out if and when his nomination is approved, however, still is not perfectly clear.


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